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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

HCSB Study Bible Online

I've been looking at a new Bible Web site. It's pretty great stuff! But before I point you that way, let me give you a quick run-down of how I found it.

Mostly on this blog I talk about the ESV, but I've gained a great deal of respect for the HCSB as a kind of more-literal NIV. I'm also a Certified Study Bible Junkie. So when I recently saw an ad for the new Holman Christian Standard Bible Study Bible, I immediately was interested. Here's a video of some of the features of the paper HCSB Study Bible:

So anyway, last week I was at a local Christian bookstore looking at the HCSB Study Bibles, and I saw a Web link printed on them: I wrote it on my built-in note pad (my hand), and when I got home I loaded it up. Turns out it's the new online version of the study Bible... and at least for the time being, it's free! Take a look at what it can do:

Right now the system is in beta testing (the link forwards to, and there's no indication whether Broadman Holman intends for it to be free forever, or to begin to charge for it at some point, so try it out while you can!

At first glance, it appears that they've taken some cues from the online version of the ESV Study Bible. Here's a brief video of that (most of the online videos of the ESV Study Bible are for the older version, which has been superseded by a new iteration, so this is all I've got):

Obvious similarities: two panes (actually, the ESV site defaults to three, but I just use two). Scripture on the left (usually), additional material on the right (usually). Bible verse search box above the left-hand pane, with the Scripture reference you're looking at in light gray text except when you're typing in a new one. The notes follow the Bible text as you scroll. But after that, the similarities end and the feature sets diverge a bit.

One thing I really like about the ESV online study Bible is the "endless scrolling" of the Bible text. When you get to the end of a chapter, the next chapter automatically follows it. The Holman online study Bible doesn't do that. The ESV OSB also has configurable bookmarks and a built-in audio player so you can listen to the Bible text. And the ESV OSB has Bible reading plans built in to give you a framework for your Bible study. The Holman OSB, on the other hand, is heavier on word-study tools; you can turn on links to Strong's definitions directly from the text, and the same information is also available in the right-hand side pane. It also incorporates the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for word definitions, and commentaries such as the Holman New Testament Commentary. It's clear that B&H is building a platform on which they can host a lot of material from their library; the ESV Online Study Bible only contains materials from that one book (although there is a VAST amount of information in that one book, and I've read hints that the architecture of this version of that site is designed so that they can add materials later on). For access to deeper study materials, the HCSB OSB currently has the ESV OSB beat by a landslide. When I've wanted access to Strong's word definitions, I've had to get them at Blue Letter Bible; now I could go to the HCSB OSB instead and find a much slicker interface.

There are some clunky parts left to be ironed out; for example, if you click a "read more" link, the full text of the study note opens automatically in the left-hand pane, right over the Bible text. The Bible text is still there, of course; it's just on a separate tab. But I'd rather see the full text of the note appear in the right-hand pane and not cover the Scripture text. You can move the tabs from pane to pane quite easily, but it strikes me as awkward for it even to happen that way in the first place, especially seeing how much effort they've put into the interface. Maybe that's one of the things that will come out in the wash as they move from beta to release version. On the other hand, things like verse popups when you hover over a cross-reference indicator are much more intuitive on the HCSB OSB site than on the ESV OSB site.

A few more odds and ends: the ESV OSB has a really nice setup for copying verses to paste into something else; I use it all the time for this blog. The Bible verse linking facility points to the ESV OSB as well, which makes for extremely easy linking from blog posts, Tweets, or anywhere you might want to link to a Bible verse. The HCSB site doesn't seem to have anything like those two features, but on the other hand, the HCSB site also contains the KJV text, and you can even set it as your default if you like.

The ESV online study Bible is a pay service; access to the Bible text is always free, but access to the study notes is $19.95, or free to anyone who purchases a hard copy of the ESV Study Bible. Currently the HCSB Online Study Bible is completely free, and I wasn't able to find any indication that they plan to charge for it in the future (see update at the bottom of this post), but I can't imagine a publisher simply giving away all of the resources they're putting out there. My guess is that the free access is a beta testing/generating buzz thing which will eventually lead to a pay service, much like Crossway gave away access to the ESV OSB for a bit back when it was brand new. I'd say if access to this new Holman site is in that same $20 range, and if it includes even only the study resources you can see today, that's a pretty amazing bargain. The HCSB text + Study Bible notes & cross-references + Strong's definitions + Bible dictionaries + a whole shelf full of commentaries = quite a value, even at a much higher cost. The link on The HCSB Study Bible site says that contains "more than $200 in free resources" and I totally believe it. I'm looking forward to spending a little more time with the HCSB Study Bible notes to see how much I like the content, but the site is feature-rich and the materials look very useful. I think it's a great start for a new Bible Web site.

A list of HCSB Study Bibles you can buy

The official site of the HCSB translation

UPDATE: After I wrote this post, I found this in the site's FAQ:
Will this site and this content always be FREE?
Our current intention is to keep all of the books that are in this BETA site free forever! And we plan to add more free books! Later, we expect that publishers will need to charge for royalty-based books. When we add those royalty-based books, we will let you know how to access them.

1 comment:

PaulMikos said...

Thanks for the great review, and the update. As part of the development team for I can also confirm that many of the features you wish we had--bookmarks, audio, etc--are on our road map. We just wish we could deliver them all at once. Thanks for helping us get the word out about this new resource.